The Delaware Sea Grant College Program, a statewide effort based at the University of Delaware, will receive more than $1.3 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct marine research, education, and public outreach projects critical to Delaware, the mid-Atlantic region, and the nation. The federal grant will be matched by contributions from the state of Delaware and the University of Delaware.
Delaware Sea Grant is one of 32 programs comprising a nationwide network. Each Sea Grant program conducts scientific research, education, training, and outreach projects designed to tackle major issues facing America’s coasts. Since its creation in 1976, the Delaware Sea Grant College Program has worked to increase understanding of Delaware’s coastal ocean environment.
“Sea Grant researchers, outreach specialists, and students are discovering innovative ways for society to benefit from the sea — today and in the future,” said Nancy Targett, director of the program and dean of the College of Marine and Earth Studies. “We are also reaching out beyond the laboratories and meeting rooms to help Delawareans understand how they can help ensure that coastal waters remain healthy and economically viable for our children and grandchildren.”
Delaware Sea Grant scientists, graduate students, and outreach specialists have been funded for work falling under the four National Sea Grant focus areas of healthy coastal ecosystems, sustainable coastal development, safe and sustainable seafood supply, and hazard resilience in coastal communities. Funding is also being applied to support Delaware Sea Grant’s general marine education, literacy, and outreach efforts.
Under the healthy coastal ecosystems focus area, marine geologist Christopher Sommerfield will track how sediments are carried by rivers, tides, and storm surges and get trapped in coastal marshes — low-lying ecosystems that help to reduce upland flooding during storms, absorb pollutants, and serve as important habitat for wildlife. An improved understanding of sediment transport will help scientists and resource managers with marsh restoration projects. The work also is particularly relevant in the face of rising sea levels.
Researchers George Luther and Matt Oliver will use a new type of sensor to help determine how efficiently Delaware Bay phytoplankton grow. The sensor measures how changes in sunlight and nutrients affect the growth of the microscopic plants, which form the basis of the food web. Knowing how efficiently the plants grow will help resource managers looking to monitor the bay’s health.
Marine geologist Arthur Trembanis and oceanographer Doug Miller will use an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to learn more about the bottom of Delaware Bay. Certain areas support diverse communities of organisms and are known as fishing hotspots by recreational anglers, but scientists don’t know much about them. The AUV uses sophisticated equipment to collect data that will reveal secrets behind the areas’ ecological productivity.
Closer to shore, another study will use GPS and imaging systems to learn more about the accumulation of sand around Cape Henlopen Point. Engineer Jack Puleo and geographer Michael O’Neal will employ a sophisticated GPS system, along with the University of Delaware’s new airship, to map the shape of the beach and the amount of sand present. Information about how sediment is transported will help state program managers looking to assess the effect of moving shorelines on beaches, developed areas, and wildlife.
Molecular ecologist Kathryn Coyne will take an innovative approach to tracking pollution on our coastal waters. She will work to identify microscopic plants called diatoms that can serve as indicators of water quality. Certain diatom species do better than others in polluted waterways; therefore, the species found in a particular area can tell scientists a lot about environmental conditions there. Such knowledge is important for the ecosystem and for protecting the health of people using the waterways.
Delaware Sea Grant outreach specialist Joe Farrell will continue working with Delaware communities to monitor the health of the state’s coastal ecosystems. Among various activities, Farrell provides training to communities on stormwater management and manages the UD Citizen Monitoring Program, which trains volunteers to collect water quality data throughout coastal Delaware. The data is extremely useful in supporting statewide management and regulatory efforts.
Under the sustainable coastal development focus area, researchers Jeremy Firestone and Willett Kempton will build upon their expertise in public perceptions and policy implications related to offshore wind power. Several years ago, when a wind farm off Delaware’s coast was far from reality, Firestone and Kempton found that Delawareans expressed overwhelming support for offshore wind power as a future source of energy for the state. Now that prospects for wind farm development have advanced in Delaware and elsewhere, the researchers will determine how public opinions have evolved. Their findings will help shape energy policy throughout the United States and shed light on how and why public perceptions on the development of sea-based wind power have changed over time.
Recent studies suggest that buildings, impervious surfaces, and other structures associated with increased coastal development can affect local weather. Sea Grant oceanographer Dana Veron will investigate the connections between coastal development and sea breeze. She will also explore the implications that modified sea breeze could have on local climate — a key influencer of the region’s agriculture and tourism industries.
Marine geologist Arthur Trembanis will lead a regional effort with colleagues in Maryland and Virginia. They will collect data from various sites along the Delmarva coast in an effort to forecast the response of coastal lagoons to increased development and climate change. The researchers also expect the data to be instrumental in coastal restoration efforts.
Delaware Sea Grant outreach specialist James Falk will work to promote coastal business and economic development through a number of activities. For example, he will provide technical and business assistance to Delmarva charter boat captains and nature-based tourism groups. In addition, Falk will provide research and decision support for coastal communities facing key land-use decisions.
Under the safe and sustainable seafood supply focus area, seafood specialist Doris Hicks and outreach specialist John Ewart will engage in several activities. Hicks will work with other food science experts to train seafood businesses and healthcare providers on proper seafood handling and safety techniques. Ewart will continue his work on Inland Bays shellfish restoration and stock enhancement. This effort will build on recent findings that restoration efforts are bearing fruit; in 2008, project leaders found evidence of naturally occurring juvenile oysters in two Fenwick Island waterways.
Under the hazard resilience in coastal communities focus area, coastal engineers Jim Kirby and Fengyan Shi will build on their work to develop a system for predicting storm surge and other hazards caused by hurricanes and northeasters. This will help state officials anticipate flooding risks and give coastal residents and visitors better information about the potential risks of approaching storms.
A salt-tolerant plant may bring a whole new meaning to “flower power” thanks to work being done by Delaware Sea Grant researchers Jack Gallagher and Denise Seliskar. They will examine seashore mallow’s potential both as a biofuel and as a viable crop to grow on low-lying farmland that is increasingly exposed to salt water. With further understanding of the native marsh perennial’s many strengths, including its oil-rich seeds, ability to grow on non-arable land, and erosion-fighting deep-root system, Delaware farmers may soon have an option for sustaining the ecological and economic uses of agricultural land threatened by sea-level rise.
Researchers Xiao-Hai Yan, Matthew Oliver, and Young-Heon Jo will look to space to help monitor our oceans. By comparing satellite data with information being collected in coastal waters, the scientists hope to increase our understanding of large-scale environmental events. Correlating data might enable scientists to rely more on satellites as cost-effective tools for collecting data over large coastal areas.
In addition, Sea Grant outreach specialist Wendy Carey and partners will continue to help coastal communities identify and assess the risks associated with living, working, and doing business along the coast. Carey provides training for municipal officials and creates educational materials for coastal residents. In addition, she works with local residents to protect and enhance coastal environments through the use of native plants in landscaping.
All national focus areas emphasize the importance of marine education, literacy, and outreach. The Delaware Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service, based in Lewes and led by James Falk, and the Marine Public Education Office in Newark, under the direction of Ron Ohrel, will conduct a wide range of outreach projects relating to K-12 marine education, water quality, coastal storms, seafood safety, fisheries and aquaculture, and other topics. The staff’s award-winning educational efforts include seminars, workshops, publications, web sites, the “SeaTalk” radio and podcast series, and the annual Coast Day event.
For more about Delaware Sea Grant, visit www.deseagrant.org.